the very worst christian
I babysat for the first time since I moved to Greenville last weekend. Let me just say that the kids in The Peanuts Movie are sooooo mean to Charlie Brown that I just almost had to turn that thing off and also that I cannot hang as well as an 11-year-old because I was ready for bed by 9:00. Anyway. The mom came home, and she and her husband are on Young Life committee here in town, and she asked me if I was thinking about becoming a leader to high school kids.
I told her I had, and that I’d love to, and that I’d look into it. But in the back of my head, I was thinking, “I am really really really not who you’re looking for. I am the literal worst Christian.”
I actually started this conversation, about leading Young Life in Greenville, the first fall that I lived here. I met some staff people and other leaders while I was watching a World Cup game that summer, and told them how I was dreaming about mentoring college leaders and doing ministry at Furman. And we talked on the phone, and we dreamed up plans and had a vision for me. But then a week later, Maggie died. (Everything comes back to that, and I’m sorry, but it just does.) And we decided it wasn’t a good time for me to jump into ministry—and it wasn’t. And then I started dating an atheist and lied to half of America about it, and totally fell out of community, and stopped going to church. So let’s just say I got a little off track with my faith.
And now I’m back on track, and it’s a good feeling. But the other night in Bible study, I was doing the thing where I listened to the leader, and sat there and nodded and stuff, and I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but we were going through the questions in the book and I haven’t even done the reading so I know this wasn’t related, but I said, “You guys. What if I’ve forgotten how to pray?”
I just had this sense of urgency to get that out of me. I sort of wonder if God likes our honest questions more than He likes smiling and nodding, you know? (Nothing against smiling and nodding. Sometimes that’s all you can do.) But the girls answered my question, and I basically told them that I was feeling depleted because of a combination of 14.7 things in life: my illness, some things going on at work, my freaking dating life, my tendency to think that I am the Energizer bunny of never-ending relational energy, so on and so forth. Also that I am struggling with the part of life where my faith does not look the same as it did freshman year of college, when I was a Young Life leader and one of the up-front corporate prayer people at our weekly student worship thing and wrote out three-page-long prayer letters in my journals. My faith felt solid, and a lot of people looked up to me for it.
But I hadn’t really been tested yet.
And then the storms came, as they do. And I’m not really in the middle of a storm now, but I’m sifting through some things and processing. I’m finally allowing myself the space to be still and soak in what I have to say to God and what God has to say to me. This is not an easy thing for me. Some days, I can see purpose in my hard things. In Maggie’s death, in my illness, in the things that my students go through. I can pull good things out of those bad things, I can reframe. I can make you a whole list. Some days I have that much positivity and resolve and faith. And some days I just don’t. Some days I mostly have questions and doubts and am a little defensive.
The thing I love the most about this is that I have nothing to prove to anyone. I don’t have to smile and nod at Bible study; it feels better to just be honest. Chances are good that I’m not the only one who thinks everything about Christianity isn't easy to digest. God sees my heart just like it is. He knows what pulls on it. He knows that right now I want to adopt a 17-year-old. He knows I have a lot of questions and a lot of doubts and that I’ve been keeping him at arm’s length, if I’m being completely transparent, since Maggie died.
And so I'm just in a weird place. I was laying in my bed this morning, knowing that it was Easter, and that I should get up and go to church, but it felt uncomfortable. And then my friend Michelle texted me and said "Get up. I know you'll be late, but get up anyway, I am saving you a seat."
Am so enamored with people who tell me to get up anyway and save me a seat.
I have a lot of doubts; I have a lot of questions, things to consider.
The thing I am most sure of, really, is that I am such a sinner.
But I still believe in God.
Oh, do I ever. I believe in Him, and I believe things about Him. I believe He has integrity, I believe that He’s good, I believe that He is powerful. Sometimes, I just have trouble understanding Him. I have trouble with His timing and why He does the things that He does, and why He does them when He does them. Why Maggie had to go. Why my illness had to stay.
But I believe in God. I believe that He can do what He says He can do. I believe that He has plans for me. I don’t know what they are, but I believe that I’ve had some nudges, and so I’m leaving my job in June and going back to school. I’m taking a leap; I’m trying to head in the direction that I believe He is calling me.
And I’m bringing the doubts with me. I don’t think certainty is my gift. I have an appointment with a publisher and an agent through Proverbs 31 Ministries this summer to discuss my book deal. And I cannot help but be like “Man, I don’t know if I’m who they’re looking for. I am not a super Christian. I am not the girl who Instagrams Bible verses when things get really difficult. I am not the girl who can look back and say that her faith never wavered through a storm, that she never had doubts, that she never had questions.”
But wasn’t that the deal with one of the guys in the Bible? One of the disciples? Doubting Thomas? One of the guys closest to Jesus? Don’t people look down on him? I know it’s a Nickel Creek song. Anyway. I googled it. There’s some pretty negative stuff. (Forgive me; most of my Biblical knowledge comes from VeggieTales and this wasn’t in an episode anywhere. I was also the worst Religion major.)
Some of the other disciples tell Thomas that they’ve seen Jesus since He’s risen from the tomb and Thomas is all, “Hold up. I don’t know about that,” and said he needed to see the actual nail holes from being nailed to the cross for him to believe it was actual Jesus. For whatever reason, it was too risky for him to believe that Jesus was back without some kind of proof. And the thing I love about the story is that Jesus met him in that place. He addressed him specifically. He didn’t shun him, he didn’t throw shade, he didn’t invite shame. He didn’t do any of that crap. He turned right toward him, and He told him to touch the holes, to stop doubting, to believe.
He didn’t just tell him to believe.
And He didn’t say “Your faith isn’t good enough. You didn’t pass this test. I’m done with you.”
He let him touch the holes. He gave him the proof he requested.
I don’t think Jesus had to do that.
I think that was very compassionate of Jesus, actually.
Very “I’m going to meet you where you are,” which I love. And need right now.
I was listening to one of Jen Hatmaker's talks earlier and she said this about it:
"Faith does not mean that you understand the entire scope of God perfectly and you never ever struggle with doubt. That doesn't hold up to one page of scripture. It's the opposite: Faith does not demand that God always explain Himself."
I have so much to learn there.
And then she said this:
"You are not the only one who doubts; you are not the only one who doesn't understand everything, but let me tell you this--Your faith can remain intact in that space. In fact, it can thrive. Don't wait until you have full possession of knowledge before you decide to take full possession of God."
We can still believe, y'all. It is still safe to believe.
What I hear Him saying to me today is, “I never said you had to have Me all figured out before you took a step forward. I never said you couldn’t have doubts. I never said you had to be all cleaned up, I never said you had to be a scholar, I never said you had to be bulletproof.” He speaks to every single one of my insecurities about Him. He knows them. He knows my doubts in and out. We are examining them together. I am putting Him through the ringer with questions, y'all. He can take it.
I may never understand why Maggie had to die, or why I have my illness. I may never understand why my students at school have horrible things happen to them and why the only dang thing I can do about them is listen to them and give them Skittles out of my new Skittles machine. Because dang it, if they are going to bring me the stuff in their lives they are the very most scared about, you'd better believe I am going to have tissues and a motion-activated automatic Skittles dispenser for them to use.
It takes all kinds. It takes Doubting Thomases, too. I think our seasons of doubt have so much purpose, you guys. I think they are so refining. I think God is a safe place for our doubts and our questions. I think He can handle them.
I was talking to a new friend last week who is going through some things and she told me that she and God needed to have a Q&A session. Man, you and me both, sister.
He brings beauty from ashes. He can, and He does, and I’ve seen it right in front of my face and I still need to touch the holes in His hands to be sure. I have been hanging onto so many ashes, you guys. I’m afraid of what He will raise up out of them, how He will challenge me, where He will call me. To Baltimore to get that PhD? To a book deal and public transparency? To lead a vulnerability revolution and set people who struggle with mental illnesses free from shame? To be a wife and a mom? All of that? None of that? I don’t even know, you guys.
And so my prayer has become, “I have all these dreams, and I don’t know if they’re Your will and I don’t know if they’re possible. So show me what is Your will, and what is possible. Or like, screw possible, honestly. I like a challenge.”
All He requires is a broken and contrite heart. I can handle that. I can be broken. I am very good at broken. I don’t even all the way know what contrite means but I’m going to use context clues here and assume it means something you can be while you are broken. And I didn’t think I could be much of anything while I was broken, so that speaks so much power to me.
He never said we had to be all together. He never said that. He said a lot of things, and I don't know them all, because I will never ever be the one up on stage teaching people about the Bible, but the one I'm focusing on today is that he said that the only sacrifice He requires is a broken and contrite heart. Broken. Not together. Not shiny, not all-knowing, no gold stars, no trophies, no achievements, really no accomplishments. Just brokenness. This is my natural state. It takes all kinds, you guys.